Interview with Prof. Daniel Amit


JEDDAH: Dr. Daniel Amit, a prominent Israeli professor at the University di Roma, refused a request in March to review a study by the American Physical Society. In explaining his refusal, he wrote: "I will not at this point correspond with any American institution. Some of us have lived through 1939."

What followed was an exchange between Dr. Amit and the editor in chief of the American Physical Society, which dealt with everything from the second Gulf War to the merits of scientific research for the good of mankind.

"What we are watching today, I believe, is a culmination of 10 to 15 years of mounting barbarism of the American culture the world over," he wrote. "It is crowned by the achievements of science and technology as a major weapon of mass destruction."

"We are witnessing a manhunt and wanton killing of a type and scale not seen since the raids on American-Indian populations by a superior technological power of inferior culture and values. We see no corrective force to restore the insanity, the self-righteousness and the lack of respect for human life -civilian and military- of another race," he added, in reference to the US-led war on Iraq.

In the end both parties agreed to disagree, and the exchange was posted online.

Arab News interviewed Dr. Amit by e-mail about his exchange with the American Physical Society.

ARAB NEWS: Why did you refuse to review a paper for the American Physical Society?

DR. AMIT: The reason I took this step is that, with the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, all hope against hope that this pure aggression could be avoided were dashed. I felt that the basic values of enlightened culture were destroyed in a most blatant way, in a world where such values are increasingly needed. One of the central problems of modern global society is that the culture that publicizes itself as the example of democracy, enlightenment, modernity, culture, and freedom, is the one that puts global survival in danger. It does that by robbing the environment, and the war indicates that it can put such destruction into open military practice, with no internal (American) corrective forces.

Q: Please elaborate on your refusal to correspond with any American institutions.

A: I felt, and since then have felt ever more, that the myth must be shattered and that it can be uncovered by symbolic acts, because culture and civilization are about symbols. We must confront the dominant idea that American culture is the source of all good and wisdom, in all fields of culture. I chose the field of science for this particular personal revolt because the American domination in this field is especially apparent and effective (both materially and spiritually); because the war has exposed, in a double way, the horror in which science participates on both sides of the aggression: First, to expose and destroy Iraqi weapons (inspections), and then to develop technology which renders an entire people a hunting ground for raving technological cowboys (in the style they hunted the Native American Indians); because my colleagues in the scientific universe must open their eyes to the implications of their "pure" activity, which produces such weapons, allows the development of biological weapons, bigger and more devastating bombs (and this is done in universities).

Moreover, while all major Christian churches have taken a principled stand against the war, academic and scientific institutions were essentially absent.

Yes, I will continue. The crime is not over: Iraq is occupied and its people and its resources are treated like the Wild West, with total impunity. What is going on in Iraq (and in Afghanistan and Palestine for that matter) is against every international convention, and exceeds the horrors imagined when such conventions were formulated.

My wish and hope is to serve as an example for others, especially the young. Though in the hundreds of responses I receive I notice the awaking conscience of many who (like myself) are no longer young.

Q: Do you see a link between scientific progression, and the development of weapons of mass destruction?

A: There can be absolutely no doubt that science has been directly linked to weapons of mass destruction for at least two centuries. But the responsibility has become much more acute since the development of nuclear weapons in the 1940s. Today this problem is particularly grave because every aspect of existence has become a weapon, not only physics.

Chemists are working on ever more powerful bombs; biologists on mutated species and weapon viruses; engineers and physicists on guided systems and space control; information science and mathematics on controlling international communication systems; the social sciences on providing ideological cover etc. etc..

This globalization of scientific application is pushed and sold the world over, by the US. By now even the most abstract and naive line of research is required to be described, in the grant proposals, as potential application-oriented.

Q: The argument was that Iraq was a threat to its neighbors, including Israel. How did you feel about that as a Jew?

A: I think the idea of the threat was ridiculous from the start. Only the Americans could believe this type of crude propaganda, aimed at getting their sheepish consent for a horrible aggression. As a physicist friend of mine (an American, also of Jewish origin) wrote: A country that could not launch even one bomb on massive concentrations of an invading army was considered a threat by a power that claims to dominate the entire information space of Iraq, from satellites to overflying planes. It is really a crude joke, had it not implied such a human and institutional disaster.

Q: Your exchange with the American Physical Society was displayed on the web. What kind of a response did you get from America and the Middle East?

A: I got several hundred responses, about 95 percent of them supportive. The only hostile ones came from the US. But also, much sincere support came from there. The majority of response comes from women. The most touching debate seems to have taken place in India. But the reactions covered the Philippines, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Europe, Latin America. A few -too few- from the Middle East. None from Japan or China. It could serve as a basis for an interesting study.

Q: Do you think any good came out of the war with Iraq?

A: No, absolutely not. If we consider the situation in the former Yugoslavia or in Afghanistan, we cannot but admire the foresight of Gandhi, who said that the benefits from violence are short lived. The damage persists.

The war in Iraq, like the other American wars of the last half a century, do not even have a short-term benefit. On the other hand, the damages are all apparent, with the human suffering, before and during the war; the destruction of the UN; the theft of oil and other resources and the pillage of Iraq, by who knows who.

Q: Are you optimistic about the road map for Middle East peace?

A: Unfortunately, not at all. After 36 years of occupation it should be totally clear that the Middle East needs a just peace, or there will be no peace. The combination of the people in power in Israel (my country) and the US have no such values to contribute.

The requirement that cessation of violence must be a precondition for political progress is a sure formula for no progress. So many of us, including hundreds of military officers and expert journalists, have come to the conclusion that it is an intended policy of the Israeli government to provoke Palestinian violence, whenever it senses a political process that may threaten the continuation of the occupation and the settlements.